The Truth About Poison Ivy

The weather is finally warming up and it is a great time to get outside.  Whether in your backyard or on the Appalachian Trail, avoiding poison ivy is key to an enjoyable outdoor experience.

Poison Ivy Facts

Fact: You’ve all heard the phrase “leaves of three, let it be.” Poison ivy and poison sumac (commonly known as poison oak) are easily identifiable because they grow with leaves in clusters of three.

Fact: Poison ivy is contracted when oils from the leaves of the plant make direct contact with the skin.  Poison ivy oil can also be spread by touching exposed animal hair and clothing.  In other words, it is possible to get poison ivy when you pet a dog that has come in contact with the plant.  It is also possible to re-infect yourself by handling shoes or clothing that have been exposed and have not be properly decontaminated.

Fact: Poison ivy cannot be spread by touching blisters on the skin (either on your skin or other’s skin). You must have direct contact with the plant or touch something that has come in contact poison ivy to experience a reaction.

Fact: There is no proven, effective treatment to treat poison ivy.   Calamine lotion, hydrocortisone and other topical products will only temporarily help relieve itching.  Steroids may reduce itching and the duration of the rash but are not 100 percent effective.

Even though this plant is common and the vast majority of us are allergic to it, the plant and its allergic reaction are very misunderstood.   Understanding how you get poison ivy is your best defense to avoid a maddening rash.

Michele Casey, MD, is the director of Primary Care for WakeMed Physician Practices and a Primary Care Physician atWake Specialty Physicians -Falls Pointe Medical Group

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